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Food for thought over research findings

FairtradeWhy am I not entirely convinced by new research from PR agency Cohn & Wolfe that claims about two-thirds of British consumers will cut back on organic food and pay less for ethically-sourced products even after the recession is over?

Let me say straight away that my reservations have nothing to do with the methodology of the survey – carried out by Lightspeed – which seems entirely beyond reproach.

My qualms have more to with human nature. People don’t tend to tell the truth, or at least the entire truth, when quizzed about this sort of thing. To be sure they are preoccupied with value lines, as the current success of Lidl and Aldi demonstrates. But then, we’re in the middle of a rather severe recession and every penny counts – doesn’t it? – especially if you’ve been made redundant.

Where I’m more sceptical is about reading consumers long-term intentions. They’ve said this sort of thing before, in previous recessions. But they’re quite happy to go back to premium lines (upmarket, fairtrade, or ‘green’) once prosperity returns. Lidl and Aldi tend to disappear off the retail analysts’ map during such periods, as they assiduously monitor the waxing margins of Waitrose, M&S and the like.

However, I have no reason to doubt Geoff Beattie, head of Cohn & Wolfe Global Practices, when he says: “A more prudent shopper is emerging”. These shoppers are internet-savvy about price comparisons, even where supermarket groceries are concerned. It would seem from the survey that they are also comparing supermarkets more critically with locally produced food – and quite often finding the supermarket value-for-money mantra a bit of a myth.

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